16th Century Feminist – Artemisia Gentileschi


"Judith and Her Maidservant" 1614-1615

Women throughout history have often fought for their place in what's historically been a male dominated world. Forms of abuse or suppression from full participation in life are apt motivators toward rebellion of all kinds. For Artemisia Gentileschi like many other women artists the story isn't so different. Born in 1593 she was the eldest child of Orazio Gentileschi a Tuscan painter whos style took after Carravaggio. At an early age Artemisia was taken under her fathers wing and introduced to many artists in Rome. By the age of 17 she produced "Susanna and the Elders"

"Susanna and the Elders"1610-1611

This is a biblical story from the
book of Daniel which tells of
two elders secretly watching 
Susanna bathe in her garden, 
then accosting and blackmailing
her as she returns home. They 
threatening to testify that she
was with a young man unless
she agrees to sex with them.

I think the painting is filled
with emotion and pain as I look
at it. I'm not sure you even need
the background story to sense
what's going on. Perhaps part of
it's mastery can be attributed to
the fact that it's not far from 
real life for Artemisia, who was a 
victim of rape by an art tutor and 
colleague of her fathers at the 
age of 18. 

The rape went to trial once
her father found out and 
although the perpetrator was
convicted he was later released
by the judge. During the trial
Artemesia faced further
abuse having to endure torturous 
examinations to prove her 
testimony of virginity.

"Judith Slaying Holofernes" 1614-1620

Artemesia married later and moved to Florence where she became a court painter and started to realize some success. Today she's considered one of the most accomplished painters in the time following Carravaggio. She was the first woman to become a member of the Academy of Fine Arts of Florence. I appreciate the intense detail, as well as the emotional and violent undercurrents of her work. Given her experience I can't imagine it being any less than that. In thinking about it painting may have been the only venue to voice such inner pain, loss and trauma.


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